The New Boys(Part I): Southampton
The new teams coming out of the Championship have always been fascinating to say the least. They have always been favourite with the bookies to go straight back down, so they basically have a nothing to lose attitude. Teams like Newcastle(1993-94), Ipswich(2000-01) and last season’s Swansea and Norwich lend that surprise package to the Premier League which it so vitally needs. The neutral fans get a new underdog to root for.
In a series of 3 parts, I will delve in to what you should expect from the new boys in the Premier League this season and the players you should keep an eye on.
The Saints are finally back to the Premier League after a gap of 7 years. The club that brought to us the talents of Matt Le Tessier and James Beattie are finally back where they believe they belong. A permanent fixture in the Premier League for the first decade, Southampton ran into financial trouble and later went into administration resulting in their painful journey to League one after they were unable to overcome a 10 point penalty imposed on them in 2009. Markus Liebherr’s takeover at the club finally spelt a reverse in fortunes and an end to the misery the Saints fans had been enduring.
Southampton finally had an upturn in fortunes, under the guidance of their Messiah who came in the form of an ex physio Nigel Adkins. Adkins helped the Saints transform from League One bottom dwellers to the Premier league new boys after two consecutive promotions. He has built a strong team with an eye for playing the beautiful game the way it’s meant to. While his players will be rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the footballing world, Adkins will have to face the challenge of outfoxing greats like Sir Alex, Arsene Wenger and others. He isn’t getting carried away with his recent success and is well aware of the daunting task infront of him. Already roping in Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis, Adkins will be hoping to bolster his squad for the upcoming ordeal. Here are a few of them on whom you should keep an eye on.
5 players to look out for:
Lallana is the designated play-maker of the the team and their offensive linchpin. His creative force has been instrumental in Southampton’s surge up to the Premier League. Still only 23, Llalana has come through the ranks at St. Mary’s and has been witness to the heights of European football, an FA Cup final and finishing 8th in the Premier League followed by the turmoil of two relegations, administration and a revolving door of five chairmen and ten managers.
Lallana’s flair and technical ability is destined for the Premier League and we should be witness to yet another left-footed England prodigy this coming season. A heartthrob of the fans, the chants ‘He plays on the left, he plays on the right, Adam Lallana makes Messi look sh**e’ may be delusional but just goes to show how much he is loved down south. He can play on both flanks as well as in an withdrawn forward role. In League One and the Championship it was as if it were men against boys when he was used his left foot like a wand, making defenders around him look like utter fools. It’s now time for him to rub shoulders with the big boys, to prove his pedigree at the highest level.
One of the most vital aspects of success for any team is a natural predator- a prolific goalscorer who knows where the back of the net is. Ricky Lambert comes up trumps for the Saints in this respect. A 6’2″ bruiser with a good first touch and an eye for a goal, he has become a “20 goals a season” striker in the lower leagues. It’s now time for his to step up and show that he can do it at the big stage.
Lambert arrived from Bristol Rovers and was an instant hit in his first season as he scored 36 goals in all competitions becoming the Saints highest scorer for the season. He finished with 21 the next season helping the Saints into the Championship. His 31 goals last season provided the ammunition to fire the South England club into the fold of the Premier League.
A product of the Chelsea youth academy, Cork had to eventually leave the Londoners in the hope of kick-starting his career after several loan spells away from Stamford Bridge. He joined Southampton in 2011 in a transfer thought to be around £750,000 mark. It was a case of one step back to take two steps forward for him. Still only 23 ,Cork already has Premiership experience to boast of, while he was at Burnley on loan in 2010. The ex England-U21 man is a holding midfielder by trait. He was one of the handful of players who played well during Burnley’s short stay in the Premier League.
You may get to see a glimpse of his talent before the Premier League as he is included in the Great Britain squad for the London Olympics .
Jose Fonte “El Capitán” is the spiritual leader of the Saints, their defensive stalwart. Initially signed by Alan Pardew from Crystal Palace, Jose Fonte has turned into one the marquee signing for the Saints. Now with a new contract to his name, he has become the leader and a rock at the back forming an admirable partnership at with Jos Hooiveld. Fonte has been ever-present in Southampton’s romp back to the top level via 2 back-to-back promotions.
Alan Pardew was interested in bringing him to Newcastle as he clearly believed Fonte could cut with the big boys. The Saints will be looking to the former Benfica man to keep their defense water-tight as they head into heavier tides.
The home crowd of the Saints will be a key factor when it comes to the fortunes of the Saints next season. They will serve as the key 12th man, an ingredient for success for any team. The chances of survival for any team coming up the ranks to the Premier League depends on how they protect themselves at home. The home record plays a huge part in any relegation battle, which Southampton are likely to face next season. One of the biggest factors that contributed to Southampton’s fall from the Premier was their indifferent form at St. Mary’s. The prospect of facing Southampton at their former stadium “The Dell” was daunting to say the least. They just couldn’t get it running once they moved to their new shrine at St. Mary’s and fell away from the footballing map in England.
The 32,689 seater is the largest football stadium in the south of England, outside of London. The Southampton’s fans are as loyal as they come. They have endured pain for the best part of a decade and were ridiculed by the neighbouring Portsmouth. It’s now their time to shine, to scream and spur their team onto bigger and better things.
Honourable Player Mentions: